Melting glaciers have now become an all-too-common piece of news, but the reason for glacier melt is not always immediately clear. Take the glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula, for example. Scientists have been monitoring the retreat of these glaciers for years, but a new study may shed new light on the reason why the Antarctic is melting.
The prevailing theory has been that the Antarctic was melting because of warmer air temperatures. This would seem to be a reasonable guess since earth has been warming for a number of years and we are now seeing record-setting months and years one after another. However, a previous study showed that the air temperature, while definitely increasing, was not enough by itself to cause all of the melting that was occurring in the Antarctic.
Another recent study of the melting ice was conducted by scientists with Swansea University, Durham University, and the British Antarctic Survey. This study, which was recently published in the journal Science, found that the glacier retreat was caused primarily by rising water temperatures. The study also identified differences in the rate of melting in northwestern and southern regions. The northwestern region, which has relatively cooler waters, has experienced less glacier melt than has the southern region which has relatively warmer waters.
The new theory concerning why the Antarctic is melting is that the warmer water is melting ice shelves and causing the ice to break away. This phenomenon has significantly increased the rate at which the glaciers in the Antarctic are retreating.
Melting glaciers have the potential to increase sea levels by a number of feet if the melting trend is not reversed quickly. The Totter Glacier in East Antarctica, for example, could cause sea levels to rise by more than six feet if it continues to melt. This sea level rise would be in addition to that caused by other glaciers which are also melting at an alarming rate.
How much are sea levels actually rising? Scientists say that the ocean’s rose by an alarming five inches during the last century. This increase is faster than at any time during the past several thousand years.
Rising sea levels pose a serious problem even before they rise high enough to permanently flood many of the world’s coastal cities. High tides and storm surges are already causing coastal flooding in many areas, with storm-related flooding become increasingly damaging. This flooding will only become more common and more devastating as sea levels continue to rise until many of the world’s coastal cities and islands are no longer inhabitable.